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review: How the Marquess Was Won

How the Marquess was Won (Pennyroyal Green #6) -by- Julie Anne Long (Published by NN)  My grade: 3 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  The Scandal Sheets call him Lord Ice.  Ruthless, cold, precise, Julian Spenser, Marquess Dryden, tolerates only the finest—in clothes, in horseflesh, in mistresses. And now he’s found the perfect bride, the one whose dowry will restore his family’s shattered legacy and bring him peace at last: the exquisite heiress Lisbeth Redmond.  She’s not afraid to play with fire. But one unforgettable encounter with Lisbeth’s paid companion, Phoebe Vale, and the Marquess is undone: this quiet girl with the wicked smile and a wit to match is the first person to see through the icy façade to the fiery man beneath. But their irresistible attraction is a torment as sweet as it is dangerous: for surrendering to their desire could mean losing everything else they ever wanted…

LET ME START BY SAYING THAT I AM one of Julie Anne Long’s fangirls. I absolutely adore the Pennyroyal Green series, and I have re-read all of my favourites, most recently “What I Did For a Duke”. So I have been waiting for the sixth instalment in this series with bated breath. Sadly, I have seen a lot of complaints in threads and in reviews that Ms. Long gets quite a few of the historical details wrong. As long as I don’t notice these things they do not bother me (though I don’t care to have them pointed out to me, to be honest, then they tend to annoy me). I can understand, however, that it would irk readers with a good knowledge of the time period (of which I am somewhat vague, but, again – that suits me fine). But  I digress. Probably, because I am writing this review so reluctantly as I have to confess that I was fairly disappointed in this book.

I cannot fault the writing – the sentences or dialogue never feel contrived or stilted and Ms. Long has such a wonderful way with words, that the prose is absolutely magical at times. Very few authors can evoke emotions the way she can. So I feel the anticipation/excitement/joy/passion/anguish and grief as her main characters do. In one scene, Phoebe’s beloved cat Charybdis is lost, and I suffer with her as she comes to face with the fact that he might be gone forever, and in the next scene I feel as frantic as Julian, the Marquess, as he hunts desperately to try and find the feline.

This is from a point in the book where Phoebe hears opera for the first time:

The music twined around Phoebe, and in moments held her fast, in thrall. She yearned to know the next note, the next phrase. It was a fresh and delightful shock when each was lovelier than the next. Anticipation ramped and ramped. The voice slipped in almost unnoticed, like an interloper into a party. It insinuated itself between notes, and then surreptitiously, then ever more boldly, climbed, and climbed, and climbed . . . until it soared above the music. Brazen and glorious. Dear God . . . the sound of it . . . it hurt, hurt to hear, such was its beauty. She felt swollen with it. She reached out and clutched the marquess’s sleeve without realizing it. As if to prevent herself from launching skyward. “What is it? The song. Please tell me what it is,” she demanded on a whisper. He looked down at her hand. And then down into her face. If she had known his breath had caught when she’d reached out for him . . . if she had seen his expression . . . then she might have backed away, confused by the unguarded confusion and hunger there. Or she might have flung herself into his arms. She was owned by the music. She’d closed her eyes.

However, I was not so happy about having to read about a cousin to the Redmonds. A not very likeable young lady at that, and she was not even the main female character. So in essence, even if the setting was Pennyroyal Green in Sussex and London, as per usual, and I met some of the beloved characters from earlier books in passing, the story was in not about a Redmond or an Eversea but about Phoebe Vale, a teacher at the academy for recalcitrant young girls and some totally unconnected Marquess. It turns out he is connected because he wants to marry the Redmond cousin Lisbeth, so that he can get land that once belonged to his family back in form of dowry.

Another disappointment I have with this book, apart from not thinking that it is a true Pennyroyal Green-book, was  that I felt there were some inconsistencies and a very forced obstacle to the HEA. Phoebe is planning to leave her employment at the academy to join a group of missionaires bound for Africa. At first this seems like a distant plan, apparently she has not saved up enough money. Then, suddenly because she wins some money in a card game, she is set to leave directly with the group of missionaries who are departing very conveniently in a very near future. Further, she does not seem to have anchored this idea of leaving with Ms. Endicott of the academy.

The first encounter between Phoebe and Julian takes place in the village store, where he is looking for a gift for Lisbeth Redmond:

He gestured to a case in a shadowy corner of the shop near the girls, far away from sunlight that could yellow or fade painted silk. “I hope you find something that pleases you.” Fat chance, Phoebe thought.
That Fat chance thought felt so out of place that I had to look the expression up, and the first time it is recorded to have been used was in the early 1900’s. It felt more modern than that, though.

The supporting cast is consisting of people who; apart from Jonathan Redmond, I don’t find very likeable. Lisbeth turns out to be a self obsessed mean girl and some young bloods and ladies of the ton play a cruel trick on Phoebe just for sport. Jonathan, by the way, has had the spelling of his name changed; throughout “Like No Other Lover” his name spells Jonathon. Very annoying. My final complaint is a repeated phrase towards the end of the book, after a very emotional scene Phoebe is leaving Julian and thinking that he is asleep, she tries to get away quietly. This is how this reads in my electronic version of the book:

And she slipped out of bed, and tiptoed across the carpet. She gave Charybdis a good morning kiss, then tiptoed across the carpet, collecting her gloves, her slippers.She tiptoes across the carpet. Twice. Sloppy.

Rounding off  this whiny review, I would like to say that the first part of the book was more enjoyable than the second part, which felt rushed and as mentioned, somewhat forced. Despite this, it was an enjoyable and addictive read and had my expectations not been so high, I probably would not have felt as let down as I admittedly do. I am now waiting to read about Lyon and Olivia. I think it is time.

(read in January 2012)

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review: Dying Bites

 Dying Bites (The Bloodhound Files #1) -by- DD Barant
(Published by St. Martin’s) 

My grade: 4 1/2 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  A Her job description is the “tracking and apprehension of mentally-fractured killers.” What this really means in FBI profiler Jace Valchek’s brave new world—one in which only one percent of the population is human—is that a woman’s work is never done. And real is getting stranger every day….

 I FOUND AN INTERVIEW WITH D.D. BARANT on from April 2010 on Amberkatze’s Book Blog, where he (I understand that D.D. is one of three pseudonyms used by this author) talks about this book and the world it is set in:

The Bloodhound Files is about a world where the supernatural races—vampires, werewolves and golems—are the dominant civilization. Human beings make up just one percent of the population and are considered a federally protected endangered species. The main character, Jace Valchek, is an FBI profiler from our world, specializing in deranged killers. She gets yanked into this parallel universe for her skills—the supernaturals are immune to mental diseases as well as physical ones, so they have no experience with craziness.

We meet Jace in bed, nursing a hangover after yet another social faux pas – drinking tends to make her somewhat inhibited when it comes to sharing details about her work, most of which is not suitable for cocktail party small talk. She falls back asleep and has a weird dream that turns out to be no dream at all; she is being pulled into a parallell universe in order to assist the National Security Agency, NSA, profile and apprehend a serial killer.

World building can be tricky – you don’t want to infodump your reader, but at the same time enough details must be provided to make the story believable. I prefer the kind of books where details about the surroundings – especially if they are new to the main character – are provided where it fits the story best. And I think it is done in that manner in Dying Bites. Jace’s reaction to the information about her whereabouts, the existense of (go)lems, (lycan)thropes and (vam)pires – the short versions used regularly in the book – feels natural, as does her curiosity and acceptance of things that are different compared to our/her real world.

Jace is a tough cookie, after all she is one of FBI’s best profilers. And even though she is extremely unhappy about the situation she finds herself in, she is a professional and gets to work to solve the murder case/s – it is, after all, her only way to make sure she will be transported back again.
She is chasing a human, perceived to be psychotic. The thrope and two pires who are the victims by the time Jace is forced to take on the case, have been killed in extremely gruesome manners, meant to send a message both to the dominant species and to the remaining human population. A monster is a monster, but Jace cannot help contemplating the crimes that humanity have be subject to – especially during this world’s version of world war II. I won’t go in to details here, but as the story progresses, Jace finds out more and more, information kept from her by her new boss Cassius.

Every detective needs a partner, and Jace’s is Charlie Aleph – a golem. Thropes and pires look mostly human, but lems… not so much. Cassius first describes golems to Jace thus: ”… a golem is an artificial person, usually man-shaped but sexless. Basic animist magic: shape a humanoid form and charge it with life force”. This makes Jace expect Charlie to basically look like a sack of sand. But this is her first impression:

…a broad-shouldered figure a little over six feet tall, wearing a very sharp pin-striped suit of dark blue, matching fedora, and polished black leather oxfords. His skin is darker than his shoes, and just as glossy; his features seem sculpted out of black chrome. His tie appears to be alligator skin.. He stops in front of our table and looks at me. At least, I think that’s what he’s doing; he doesn’t seem to have actual irises or pupils, just eye-shaped indentations. It’s like looking at a mask, one with strong, angular features: square chin, heavy brow, Roman nose with a pronounced hump to it.

Jace also works closely with Damon Eisfanger, a lab thrope, and Gretchen Petra, a pire who works with intel. All the characters introduced feel three dimensional. Their individual traits and quirks become apparent as Jace gets to know them better and they grow on her (and the reader).
As mentioned, Jace is tough and in the beginning she comes across as a little too angry. But then, as you get to know her, you understand where it is coming from. She has a sense of humour and does realize quickly when she has made an error of judgement – she can be very hasty at times. One thing that is frustrating to her is that her gun (until it is somewhat modified) neither scares nor affects the pires or thropes significantly. In a showdown with a Japanese oyabun, this is very apparent:

I’ve got the drop on Isamu, but of course that doesn’t mean anything to a target who isn’t afraid of guns. He leaps straight at me, probably intending to rip my arms off and beat me to death with them, and I shoot him many times. Many, many times. He refuses to explode in a disgusting display of gore and instead is merely propelled backward to his starting point. This produces a look of intense irritation on his face, which just doesn’t work for me. I was hoping for something a little more satisfying—fear, horror, maybe the dawning realization that he is well and truly hooped.
Oh, well. You take what you can get.

If you like Ilona Andrews’s books about Kate Daniels, there is a very good chance you’ll enjoy Dying Bites. I am already reading book #2 in this series!

(read in December 2011)

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review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone


Daughter of Smoke and Bone
 (Smoke and Bone #1) -by- Laini Taylor
(Published by Little, Brown & Co) 

My grade: 5 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers
who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human;
and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color.

Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

WOW

I had a hard time thinking of reading another book after finishing Daughter of Smoke and Bone. This is the most fantastic read of 2011 for me.

***
The writing is utterly beautiful. The chapters so smooth as if they just lined up effortlessly. The words just flowed from the pages through me and touched me.
I can’t explain it, and I think it is quite amazing how one work of fiction can evoke so many emotions, but I felt like I had been there before. Not like a trope that has been used time and time again or a set-up that felt old and familiar and completely unsurprising.
But somehow it felt like coming home, like I’d walked those winding streets of Prague along Karou before.

At a first glance, Karou may be someone to envy. She is young, beautiful and talented, she has a wonderful best friend and her own flat in Prague, decorated with artifacts and knick-knacks that she has picked up from her “trips” around the world.
But there is a sadness surrounding her and a part missing inside her.

She has to keep one of her realities unknown to the humans around her.
Karou was raised by the chimaera Brimstone in his workshop in Prague. But this workshop is also in many other cities in countries around the world. The front door can open to any of these cities and let Karou – who is not part human and part animal like the chimaera – out on a mission. What does Brimstone actually do with the stuff – most of it teeth – that Karou picks up for him? He pays for them with wishes, but no magic comes without suffering. Karou has seen some terrible things on her collection errands, and she tries to not dwell on them and comforts herself that things worked out well for those who had lost their teeth, unwillingly.

Where does the other door in Brimstone’s study – the one that Karou has never seen open – really lead?

As the book blurb states, black hand-prints start to appear on doorways around the world. On a trip to Marrakesh, where Karou meets with the only one of the human sellers of teeth that she has ever liked, (and who, by the way, is quite obsessed with the connection mustache =clever man: Nietzsche, Twain…), she becomes the target of the seraphim Akiva. He injures her and while she recuperates in the workshop – from which Brimstone is curiously absent – she gets a glimpse of another world before being unceremoniously turfed out by Brimstone and basically told she is not welcome again.

From here, the story shifts up to a faster pace and the plot thickens. It turns out that Akiva might just know who she is, but will she like what it is he has to tell her?

This book took hold of me and did not let go, still hasn’t. It is magical, it has loss and sorrow, friendship and impossible love. It is about the cost of war, about trust and betrayal and getting up and doing something about it.

Read it – you won’t regret i!

(read in October 2011)

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review: Angelfall

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1) -by- Susan Ee
(Published by Ace) 

My grade: 5 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.
Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel. 

ABSOLUTELY RIVETING READ, I lay awake until 03.15 in the morning to finish this one. It was worth it.

In northern California, Silicon Valley, we find Penryn and her family; her wheelchair bound younger sister and her schizophrenic mother, as they are leaving their flat where they have camped out following the attacks on earth by angels not long previously. Hardly any modern conveniences work – electricity and hot water are sporadic, cars are abandoned in big pile-ups on the streets; shops are looted, and gangs roam the neighbourhoods.  Penryn, who is basically the head of the family, has decided that they stand a better chance at surviving if they try and make it into  the forested hills. However, it is hard to be sneaky when your sister is in a wheelchair, and your mother is pulling a shopping trolley that she refuses to part with.

Why did the angels attack? We are not sure. A lot of the background details as well as Penryn’s personal history is revealed as the story unfolds. No infodumping here, it all feels natural in Penryn’s strong and clear voice. I have so much admiration for her, as she soldiers on during really tough circumstances. She doesn’t pretend that she is a hero, or that she wants to save the world. Her interest is keeping her family -such as it is- together and safe. She does not come across as bitter, but matter-of-factly states the things she has missed out on:

 “I am, of course, rooting for the humans. But I already have more responsibilities than I can handle. I just want be an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. My biggest concern in life should be what dress to wear to the prom, not how to escape a paramilitary camp to rescue my sister from cruel angels, and certainly not joining a resistance army to beat back an invasion to save humanity. I know my limits and that goes way beyond them.”

This book is not about sweet angels. They are as cruel and twisted and selfish and ambitious as us humans can be. There are also  some pretty gruesome scenes, they brought to my mind the sometimes extremely graphic details of the horrors that Kate Daniels comes face-to-face with in Ilona Andrews’s books. These scenes give the book a depth I often miss in YA where the challenges facing the main character are not believably difficult for me. There are no invincible warriors here (though the angels are certainly made of stern stuff and are able to heal much faster than a human) and no one – not even the angels – has the answers to everything.

So Penryn’s little sister has been kidnapped, and she keeps moving, determined to get to the angel head camp in San Francisco. On the way, she is detained with a group of people organizing a  resistance against the angel occupation. This book is filled with wry and sometimes dark humour and in this camp, she comes across a pair of twin brothers, who illustrate this:

I’m Tweedledee,” says one.
“I’m Tweedledum,” says the other. “Most people call us Dee-Dum for short since they can’t tell us apart.”
“Why would you call yourselves that?”
Dee shrugs. “New world, new names. We were going to be Gog and Magog”
“Those were our online names,” says Dum.
“But why go all doom and gloom?” asks Dee.
“Used to be fun being Gog and Magog when the world was Tiffany-twisted and suburban-simple,” says Dum. “But now…”
“Not so much,” says Dee.
“Death and destruction are so blasé.”

“So mainstream.”

This journey that she has undertaken, with her crazy mother hovering nearby (leaving clues to let Penryn know), is done in the company of the angel Raffe. Penryn realizes reluctantly that she needs to try and save him so that he can tell her how to get her sister back. Their attitude to each other is suspicious at first, but a mutual respect develops during the course of their travels.

If you are looking for a fast-paced, dark and sinister but yet funny and extremely entertaining “angel dystopia”, Angelfall is definitely for you. Sturdier than Divergent and funnier that The Hunger Games. It is one of my favourite reads of 2011.

(read in December 2011)

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review: The Shadow Reader

The Shadow Reader (McKenzie Lewis #1) -by- Sandy Williams
(Published by Ace) 

My grade: 4 stars

GoodReads Blurb:  Some humans can see the fae. McKenzie Lewis can track them, reading the shadows they leave behind. But some shadows lead to danger. Others lead to lies.
A Houston college student trying to finish her degree, McKenzie has been working for the fae king for years, tracking vicious rebels who would claim the Realm. Her job isn’t her only secret. For just as long, she’s been in love with Kyol, the king’s sword-master—and relationships between humans and fae are forbidden. 

THIS STORY COMMENCES with our heroine McKenzie having yet another exam ruined as she is summoned by the fae court in the middle of an English test. Turns out that the fae rebels have found out about her whereabouts. As a Shadow Reader (nalkin-shom) for the fae king Athroth, McKenzie is able to draw and pin-point the location to which rebels fae go when they disappear (fissure) from fights, thus enabling the court fae to catch up on them (and sometimes do not so nice things to them). The fae rebels are not so happy with that. The court fae, among them her 10-year-long crush – the King’s Sword Master Kyol – try to hurry her along to safety across the campus. In vain. McKenzie finds herself kidnapped by the fae rebel leader Aren.

Let’s pause here for a moment and think about what we know about Faery – or The Realm, as it is referred to a lot in this book.

In all the various fae books I have read, there is basically just one piece of land/country – Faery. In some books it is situated in pockets of magical otherland, remaining from the time when the world was born. In a large number of books it is on another plane/dimension.  But, there is always just one country. Sometimes it is divided, traditionally, between the dark and the light fae, but a lot of the time it is just one, single ruler. I just thought that was worth pondering about.

Anywho. The Shadow Reader’s Faery strikes me as a sort of more advanced medieval society. Probably because “tech” tends to screw up the magic of the Fae (or so the present king would like to have everyone believe). People go about their daily grind unaided by such things as washers and cappuccino makers. Not so sure about toilets. (See below). A human like McKenzie – though “gifted” with the ability to read shadows, needs to pass into the realm in the company of a fae, she must have an imprinted destination stone with her in order to not get lost in the “in between” (think: the world in ice as per “The Day After Tomorrow). But Fae can fissure back and forth between Faery and Earth, and do that quite a lot in the fighting sequences (in order to avoid arrows and lunges with swords from the opponents). Interesting to note is that a fae, deadly wounded, disappears like smoke “into the ether” when he/she finally passes on. No burial costs.

McKenzie is not very happy being held hostage with the rebels, who are camping out in the middle of a forest in Germany. And not all rebels are very happy to have her there either, and would rather Aren got rid of her once and for all. McKenzie tries to get away several times, and this in addition to the various fighting scenes and other situations requiring a hasty retreat, gets her in to the top list of very injured human heroines – right after Cassie Palmer in Karen Chance’s paranormal series. Luckily for McKenzie, Aren possesses the rare fae magic of being able to heal injuries.

Another little pause – let’s ponder the basic human needs – eat, sleep and potty breaks.
I am sorry to bring the latter up, but I feel I must.
I don’t have to or even want to read about how people in books sleep, eat, go to the toilet and shower all the time. It can certainly be too much – I got very tired reading about what Bella in Twilight was eating all the time.
But – in this story McKenzie talks about her lack of sleep or bad sleep, being locked up for several days in a room, I rather miss that information. We do not know what the rebels feed her most of the time and she never-ever has to go to the bathroom. A trip to the loo could provide her with yet another chance to escape, but she never thought about that. Obviously.

As the story unfolds, McKenzie finds herself examining – sometimes reluctantly –  whether everything she learnt, basically since the very impressionable age of 16, of the rebels and their intentions and actions is the whole truth. Aren arranges for her to learn the fae language – something the king did not think was necessary. According to the king – fae and humans should not mix more than necessary, but McKenzie is surprised to find that all fae do not share this view.

The love triangle….

McKenzie and Kyol go back a long time, but McKenzie has always known that there can never be a happy ending for them. Or can it?
Enter Aren, sexy and smoldering. McKenzie fights the attraction she feels for him, denying it even. . .

I thoroughly enjoyed the Shadow Reader and am very eager to read the sequel in this series!

(read in November 2011)

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